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Patti LaBelle

Patricia Louise Holte (born May 24 1944) best known as her stage name Patti Labelle, is an American R&B and soul singer-songwriter and actress. She fronted two groups, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles and Labelle. She is best known for her passionate stage performances, wide vocal range and distinctive high-octave belting. Her biography, Don't Block the Blessings, remained at the top of the The New York Times best-seller list for several weeks.

Life and career

Early years

LaBelle was born Patricia Louise Holte in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Henry Holte, a railroad worker. The fourth of five children, including three sisters and a brother, LaBelle began singing at the age of 14 in church. A shy girl, LaBelle had a voice of a torch diva. A school teacher advised her to start a singing group.

As Patsy Holte, LaBelle formed a four-member girl group called the Ordettes in 1958. In 1959, when two of the original Ordettes left, Holt and fellow Ordette Sandra Tucker brought in singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash. When Tucker's family made Sandra leave the group, she was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. With her mother's blessings, Patti left high school to tour with the Ordettes. The group was managed by Bernard Montague and toured from local nightclubs to honky tonks and truck stops.

Two years passed until the girls auditioned for Blue Note Records. The president at the time nearly passed on the group upon seeing the lead singer was Patti, or "Patsy" as friends and family called her, whom he had said didn't fit the traits of a traditionally beautiful lead singer. This all changed as soon as Patti started singing. The president signed them to the label under two conditions: The Ordettes were now the Bluebelles and Patricia "Patsy" Holte would be given a new name: Patti LaBelle. The name was changed again to Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles after the manager of the group who had the same name threatened a lawsuit.

Success with The Bluebelles

In 1962, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles scored their first Top 40 pop hit with the release of the doo-wop single, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman." That same year, they began wowing audiences at New York's Apollo theater, later giving them the name "The Apollo Sweethearts." Throughout the '60s, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles were one of the hottest touring acts on the chitlin' circuit while the hits continued: in 1964, they scored again with songs like "Danny Boy" and "Down the Aisle."

In 1965, the group signed to Atlantic Records and scored what later became Patti's signature song with their version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Her gospel-inspired, sometimes overly dramatic rendition ends each of her shows and climaxes with her throwing a microphone stand into the wings of the stage as she belts the final note. Around this time, LaBelle was engaged to be married to Temptations member Otis Williams, but the couple called off the engagement because of their conflicting touring schedules. The next year, LaBelle, Dash & Hendryx received a shock when Cindy Birdsong left to join The Supremes, replacing Florence Ballard. It would be years before Birdsong and the group began to speak again. After Cindy Birdsong left the group, Patti, Nona, Sarah found themselves in a rut, but the group continued to tour around the country.

Labelle

In 1970, Patti and the Bluebelles moved to England where they met Janis Joplin's former promoter, Vicki Wickham. When they returned to America the following year, they had shortened their name to Labelle, and with this new name came a new attitude, vocal style, and wardrobe. Wearing casual clothing and African accessories, the repackaged Labelle sang about racism, sexism and politics. Consumers were not excited about the groups new direction. In 1971, the group signed with Warner Bros Records and released a self titled album: "Labelle". Their new sound showed elements of gospel, funk, disco, soul, and glam rock. The album was a commercial failure but received critical raves for its positive image. In 1972 Labelle released their second Warner Bros. album, "Moon Shadow", which featured groundbreaking songs like "I Believe That I've Finally Made It Home" and "It Ain't Sad Until It's All Over". Like the first album, this album was a critical if not a commercial success. Subsequently the group was dropped by the Warner Bros. label. With the help of manager Vicki Wickham, Labelle signed with RCA Records and began work on their album "Pressure Cookin". Half of the songs on the album were written by group member Nona Hendryx. Labelle covered the political song, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", in her medley, "Something In The Air". Patti was quoted as stating that when the group was to appear on television, they were told not to perform this song. "Pressure Cookin'" was released in 1973 and continued the pattern of garnering positive reviews and low sales figures. Critics especially praised the material that Nona Hendryx wrote. Her tunes, "Let Me See You In The Light", "Can I Speak To You Before You Go To Hollywood", "Going On A Holiday", and "Last Dance" were groundbreaking positive songs that gained Labelle many cult fans, but nothing would prepare them for their smashing stardom in 1974.

In 1974, when they became aware that they had attracted a cult following, the group again revamped their image - now sporting space-like, "rockish" hair and uniforms. Their new songs were about sex, space, politics, and things that many other contemporary funk and rock bands were singing about, but with a difference - no female groups had dared to tackle this type of controversial material. In October of that year, they were the first African-American contemporary act to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. That December they released their most successful record, Nightbirds, featuring their breakout hit, "Lady Marmalade," which hit #1 on the Hot 100 in 1975, helping Nightbirds to go gold. None of their subsequent albums would have quite the same success, although Phoenix and Chameleon were hailed by music critics as experimental and groundbreaking. At a certain point Patti began having artistic differences with other members of the group; she was especially unhappy with the songs that Nona Hendryx was writing. While they continued to sell out concerts around the world, Labelle's record sales were decreasing. Nevertheless, the 1975 album, Phoenix, sold 1 million copies because of songs like "Black Holes In The Sky", "Messin' With My Mind", and "Action Time". They received critical acclaim for the lyrics that Nona Hendryx wrote.

Solo career

The '70s

In 1976, during a performance in Baltimore, Nona suffered a nervous breakdown, forcing the band to separate abruptly. LaBelle released her self-titled debut in 1977 on Epic Records, where she recorded 3 more albums in the years to come. The debut album became an important hit for Patti at least on the R&B charts and was notable for the stand-out ballad, "You Are My Friend" and for the funkier "Joy To Have Your Love," which demonstrates Patti's large range with a typical Philadelphia Soul orchestrated arrangement with heavy bass. In the next year she released one of her most acclaimed albums, Tasty, featuring the salsa hit "Teach Me Tonight (Me Gusta Tu Baile)." The next step was the album It's Alright With Me featuring the disco classic "Music Is My Way Of Life" and the last album she recorded for Epic was Released, which did better than the previous one chartwise but didn't generate any important hits nor received the same critical acclaim. On July 21, 1979, she appeared at the Amandla Festival along with Bob Marley, Dick Gregory and Eddie Palmieri, amongst others.

The '80s

Success eluded LaBelle until late 1983 when she released her first charted hit album, I'm In Love Again. The album featured LaBelle's first #1 R&B hit with "If Only You Knew" and a radio hit with "Love, Need and Want You." In 1984, after an eighteen-year estrangement, she reconciled with Cindy Birdsong while she was on stage in Los Angeles. By 1985, LaBelle was on her way to pop stardom after her songs, "New Attitude" and "Stir It Up" (recently re-recorded by Patti and Joss Stone) from the soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop (1984), which peaked at #17 and #41 on the pop charts respectively.

By the time of her rise to pop stardom in the mid-1980s, LaBelle was infamous for her wild hairdos, kicking off her shoes in a "Holy Ghost"-like rage, rolling over the floor while singing, putting the microphone stand down and then yielding it up in the air and choreographing the famous "spread my wings" move that she incorporated during her performances of "Over the Rainbow." Patti's appearance at the Motown Returns to the Apollo and Live Aid concert in 1985 introduced her to a whole new audience. During the finale of Live Aid, Patti took to the microphone for "We Are the World," during some points of which Patti's voice is the only one audible. She was also accused of taking the spot light from Diana Ross as revenge in a rumoured rivalry during a performance of "I Want To Know What Love Is" known as the infamous mic toss. As a result, Patti was often accused of grandstanding. Patti later Defended herself saying that she has a big voice and people have to be aware that she is going to use it. In 1986, she released her best-selling album to date with Winner in You. The album yielded her first solo #1, "On My Own" with pop balladeer Michael McDonald, the Top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit, "Oh, People," the moderate pop chart hit, "Kiss Away The Pain" and the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart hit, "Something Special Is Gonna Happen Tonight."

The '90s

By the end of the 1980s, she scored a moderate R&B and pop chart hit with the Diane Warren ballad, "If You Asked Me To," in 1989. The song peaked at #10 on the Adult Contemporary and R&B charts. It was later covered by Céline Dion in 1992 when it peaked at #1 on both the Pop & A/C charts. In an interview with the online magazine Monaco Revue. Patti said racism in the music industry was responsible for the difference in sales, and revealed that accepting this was the most difficult obstacle she had to face in her career.

Patti entered the 1990s on a high but not without tragedy. In July 1989, she lost her third sister Jackie to cancer. Patti's two elder sisters had similar fates, with her oldest sister Vivian dying in 1977 (at the height of LaBelle's success) and the second-eldest sister Barbara, dying in 1982 from colon cancer. Her brother, father and mother also passed away around the same time, making Patti the only living member of her extended family while being the mother of six kids - one of her own, three of one of her sisters' children and two adopted - and wife of Armstead Edwards (married since 1969), who had become her manager.

LaBelle herself was diagnosed with diabetes in 1995. She is a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association, and has published two cookbooks targeted at people with diabetes, containing low-sugar and low-fat recipes. In 2005, LaBelle began appearing in advertisements for OneTouch Ultra and later for OneTouch Ultra2, a manufacturer of blood glucose monitoring systems for people with diabetes.

In 1991, Patti released the gold-selling Burnin' album, which helped her win her first Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. Burnin' featured the hits "Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)", "When You've Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven)" and "Feels Like Another One." That album is also notable because it includes the first Labelle reunion recording with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, on the track "Release Yourself". That success continued onto subsequent albums like 1994's Gems (featuring the hit "The Right Kinda Lover"), 1997's Flame (featuring the hit "When You Talk About Love"), and 1998's Live One Night Only (which won her a second Grammy).

2000s

In 2000, she divorced her husband, L. Armstead Edwards after releasing When A Woman Loves, an album mostly of heartbroken-toned Adult Contemporary songs by Diane Warren. The album did not score an Adult Contemporary chart hit with the title track. LaBelle's musical legacy would be heard on several tracks by younger R&B and hip hop artists, such as "Lady Marmalade", which was resung by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Pink and Mya on the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge!, and became a #1 hit again 26 years after the original topped the charts. She also appeared, though briefly, in a performance of the song at the 2002 Grammy Awards. "Love, Need & Want You" was sampled by rapper Nelly and Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland in their #1 hit, "Dilemma" and later by Outkast, who featured LaBelle re-singing parts of the song on their hit, "Ghetto Musick". "If Only You Knew" has also been covered and sampled in recent years.

On February 6 2003, she performed "Way Up There" at a memorial service in honour of the astronauts lost in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, which was held at the Washington National Cathedral and attended by Vice President Dick Cheney among others. Patti was nominated for a Grammy for this tune, but lost to her friend Aretha Franklin. She also released a vibrant single of the cut. On July 22 of the same year, she sang the "Ave Maria" at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral during the funeral of the Cuban salsa singer Celia Cruz.

The year 2004 saw the release of Timeless Journey, which debuted at #16, making it LaBelle's highest charting album in eighteen years. Songs on the album include "2 Steps Away" and "When You Smile", a tribute song for Celia Cruz featuring Spanish language artists Carlos Santana, Andy Vargas, and La India. She scored modest hits with "New Day", "More Than Material" and, "Gotta Go Solo", a duet with Ronald Isley which peaked at #31 on the R&B chart. Patti also performed during the Divas Concert Live. Patti LaBelle New Day Club Mixes was released to DJs for club play and reached #1 on the Top Played Songs in the clubs and #11 on the US Dance charts.

Patti has had her own reality show on TV1, Living It Up with Patti Labelle, since April 30 2004.

In mid-2005, she released Classic Moments, a cover album featuring tracks made popular by other artists. LaBelle has often performed some of her favorite songs by other singers in her concerts. The album featured such songs as "I Can't Make You Love Me", the lead single, "Ain't No Way" (featuring Mary J Blige), "I'll Stand By You", "Land of the Living" (with singer-songwriter Kristine W.), and "Your Song" (featuring Elton John). Shortly after the release of the album, Labelle was dropped from her label. Reports of conflicts with label head Antonio "L.A." Reid were blamed for the dissolution, as well as an event where several high-profile stars abruptly backed out of appearances at a televised 60th birthday celebration for LaBelle.

Patti also appeared on Extreme Makeover where she sang "Stand by You" at a candlelight vigil.

While appearing as a guest on the show Martha on December 23, 2005, Patti LaBelle announced that she is reuniting with Labelle. She was among those honoured by Oprah Winfrey at her Legends Ball. She is also playing Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray on Broadway.

In June 2006, a previously unreleased BlueBelles track was unearthed and released on an Atlantic compilation CD, "Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters". The name of the track is "(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the Days". LaBelle also appeared in the movie preaching to the choir as Sister Jasmine the Choir Director. LaBelle sang four songs for the album, including "Going to My Father's House", "How I Got Over" and "Preaching to the Choir" with Labelle. Patti also appears on the soundtrack to Chicken Little where she duets one of her old songs, "Stir It Up", with Joss Stone .

In November 2006, LaBelle paid tribute to Dusty Springfield, singing a tribute to her at the UK Music Hall of Fame at Alexandra Palace, London.

On November 21 2006, The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle was released. As a promotion, all copies sold at Wal-Mart have a bonus track, "The Lord's Prayer". The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle debuted at #86 on the Billboard 200, #17 on the R&B chart and #1 on the Gospel Albums chart. The unit sales of the first week tallied up to 18,000 units sold. Earlier in 2006, LaBelle performed at the 2006 Super Bowl Gospel Celebration.

LaBelle was prominently featured alongside Fantasia and Yolanda Adams on the remake of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish", on the soundtrack to "Happy Feet". LaBelle will also be featured on "What About Love", the lead track from the soundtrack to The Color Purple: The Musical.

On March 26 2007, LaBelle was honoured with an Excellence in Media Award by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for her life-long work for gay and lesbian rights and participation in the fight against AIDS.

On April 29 2007, LaBelle appeared and sang at the 2007 Fort Lauderdale AIDS Walk in South Florida.

LaBelle is also said to be recording a new album with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, together as the reformed LaBelle, with help from Lenny Kravitz. They will be in the recording process this year and will possibly be on the road next year.

On June 26 2007, LaBelle gave a teary eulogy on the late Gerald Levert. Patti LaBelle alongside Gladys Knight, Yolanda Adams and Eddie Levert paid tribute to Levert at the 2007 BET Awards singing "Wind Beneath My Wings", a favourite song of his which he sang often in his own concerts.

According to a message Ms. LaBelle posted on her official website, she has currently re-signed with Def Jam after being dropped by L.A. Reid in 2005. Reid decided he had made a mistake and offered her another deal, which she took a few months to decide upon but eventually accepted. She has since released a Christmas album produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and James "Big Jim" Wright. The album, titled "Miss Patti's Christmas", was released October 9 2007 and was due to feature a guest appearance from Mariah Carey; however, this Mariah Carey track did not make the CD.

On October 20, 2007 LaBelle appeared as a surprise guest (with Whitney Houston, who introduced Patti) on the Swarovski Fashion Rocks for the Princes Trust Concert, singing a unique rendition of "Lady Marmalade" alongside the Sugababes for the finale of the concert in London, England. This was her first televised UK show since the early 70's

On November 4 2007, the World Music Awards paid tribute to 63-year-old LaBelle for her enduring contribution to R&B. LaBelle sang a rendition of "Lady Marmalade" at the event with Shaggy. "I love this show because it unites the world with music; we need peace in the world," LaBelle said. Mary J. Blige considers her, "the diva of all divas and the voice touched and blessed by God."

In January 2008, Miss Patti launched her own wig line, The Patti LaBelle Collection by Especially Yours.

In February 2008, LaBelle appeared at the The BET Honors show with her friend, Gladys Knight

In March 2008, LaBelle appeared as the Keynote speaker at the 14th Annual Women's Empowerment Expo in Raleigh, NC. .

In May 2008, LaBelle performed at the "Divas with Heart" concert alongside Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Diana Ross. Ross was the finale performer, and after she left the stage, LaBelle, Khan and Knight returned to the stage to sing "Lean on Me". Ross did not join them, while former LaBelle members Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx did. In July of 2008 Labelle performed at the Essence Music Festival during a tribute for Patti singing "Isn't It A Shame."

Tours: Flame Tour 1997-1997

She was also recognized September the 14th at the UNCF An Evening of the Stars.

Discography

Albums

  • 1962 Sleigh Belles, Jingle Belles, and Bluebelles (with the Bluebelles)
  • 1963 Sweethearts of the Apollo (with the Bluebelles)
  • 1965 The Bluebelles on Stage (with the Bluebelles)
  • 1966 Over the Rainbow (with the Bluebelles) (Gold) (20 U.S.)
  • 1967 Dreamer (with the Bluebelles) (Gold)
  • 1971 Labelle (Labelle)
  • 1972 Moon Shadow (Labelle) (42 R&B U.S.)
  • 1973 Pressure Cookin' (Labelle)
  • 1974 Nightbirds (Labelle) (7 U.S.) (4 R&B) (Gold)
  • 1975 Phoenix (Labelle) (44 U.S.) (10 U.S. R&B) (Gold)
  • 1976 Chameleon (Labelle) (94 U.S.) (21 R&B ) (Gold
  • 1977 Patti LaBelle (62 U.S.) (16 R&B) (Gold)
  • 1978 Tasty (129 U.S.) (Gold)
  • 1979 It's Alright with Me (145 U.S.) (Gold)
  • 1980 Released (114 U.S.) Gold
  • 1981 The Spirit's In It (156 U.S.) (Gold)

  • 1983 I'm in Love Again (40 U.S.) (4 R&B) (Gold)
  • 1985 Patti (72 U.S.) (13 R&B) (Gold)
  • 1986 Winner in You (1 U.S., 1 R&B, 30 UK, 29 U.S. Dance) (Platinum)
  • 1989 Be Yourself (86 U.S.) (Gold)
  • 1990 This Christmas (US HOLIDAY 18, US R&B 95)
  • 1991 Burnin' (71 U.S.) (13 R&B) (Gold)
  • 1992 Live! (135 U.S.) (15 R&B) (Gold)
  • 1994 Gems (48 U.S.) (7 R&B) (Gold)
  • 1997 Flame (39 U.S.) (10 R&B) (Gold)
  • 1998 Live! One Night Only (182 U.S.) (52 R&B) (Gold)
  • 2000 When a Woman Loves (63 U.S.) (26 R&B) (Gold)
  • 2004 Timeless Journey (18 U.S.) (5 R&B) (Gold)
  • 2005 Classic Moments (24 U.S.) (5 R&B) (Gold)
  • 2006 The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle (86 U.S. 17 R&B & 1 U.S. Gospel) (Gold)
  • 2007 Miss Patti's Christmas (179 U.S.)
  • 2008 Live in Washington (80 U.S.)

Singles

Year Song Chart positions Album
U.S. Hot 100 U.S. R&B UK South African Singles Chart
1962 "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" (with The Blue Belles) 15 13 1 Sweethearts of the Apollo
1963 "Down the Aisle" (with The Blue Belles) 37 14 1
1964 "You'll Never Walk Alone" (with The Blue Belles) 34 34 1
1965 "Danny Boy" (with The Blue Belles) 76 4 1
1966 "All or Nothing" (with The Blue Belles) 68 1 Over the Rainbow
1967 "Take Me for a Little While" (with The Blue Belles) 89 36 1 Dreamer
1975 "Lady Marmalade" (with Labelle) 1 1 17 1 Nightbirds
"What Can I Do for You?" (with Labelle) 48 8 - 1
"Messin' With My Mind" (with Labelle) - 1 Phoenix
1976 "Get You Somebody New" (with Labelle) 50 1 Chameleon
1977 "Isn't It a Shame?" (with Labelle) 18 1
"Joy to Have Your Love" 11 1 Patti Labelle
"Dan Swit Me" - 1
1978 "You Are My Friend" 61 1
1979 "Music Is My Way of Life" 81 - 1 It's Alright with Me
"It's Alright with Me" 34 1
1980 "Release (the Tension)" - 1 Released
"I Don't Go Shopping" 26 1
1981 "The Spirit's in It" - 1 The Spirit's in It
1983 "I'll Never, Never Give Up" - 1 I'm in Love Again
1984 "If Only You Knew" 46 1 1
"Love Has Finally Come at Last" (with Bobby Womack) 88 3 10 The Poet 2
1985 "New Attitude" 17 3 - 1 Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack
"Stir It Up" 41 5 - 3
1986 "On My Own" (with Michael McDonald) 1 1 2 2 Winner in You
"Oh, People" 29 7 26 26
"Kiss Away the Pain" 13 3
1987 "Something Special (Is Gonna Happen Tonight)" 50 - 7
"Just the Facts" 34 8 Dragnet
1989 "If You Asked Me To" 79 10 1 Licence to Kill soundtrack and Be Yourself
"Yo Mister" 6 - 1 Be Yourself
1990 "I Can't Complain" 65 4
1991 "Feels Like Another One" 3 - 6 Burnin'
"Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)" 2 1
1992 "All Right Now" 30 6 Patti LaBelle Live
"When You've Been Blessed (Feels like Heaven)" 4 1 Burnin
1994 "The Right Kind of Lover" 61 8 50 5 Gems
"All This Love" 42 20
1995 "Turn It Out" (with Labelle) - 5 To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar soundtrack
"I Never Stopped Loving You" 67 1 Gems
1997 "When You Talk About Love" 56 12 - 1 Flame
1998 "Shoe Was on the Other Foot" - 1
2004 "New Day" 93 36 - 1 Timeless Journey
"Gotta Go Solo" (featuring Ronald Isley) 89 31 5 Gotta Go Solo (single)
2005 "Ain't No Way" (feat. Mary J. Blige) 62 1 Classic Moments
2006 "Where Love Begins" (feat. Yolanda Adams) 68 1 ''The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle"

Filmography

Music video

  • Going Home to Gospel with Patti Labelle (1991) with Albertina Walker ("Queen of Gospel"), Barrett Sisters, Ricky Dillard and many more.

TV talkshow music appearances

Further reading

References

External links

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